24 November 2010

A labour law expert from The University of Queensland (UQ) is lending his expertise to a significant collective bargaining rights case in Canada.

Associate Professor Graeme Orr, from UQ’s TC Beirne School of Law, said the Canadian government had legislated significant restrictions on bargaining in the public service, which were now being challenged in the Canadian Supreme Court, Public Service Association of Canada v Attorney-General (Canada).

“The ultimate question for the Canadian constitutional court is whether their restrictions breach the fundamental right to bargain, which is written into Canada’s Charter of Rights,” Dr Orr said.

“By contrast, the Howard government here treated public sector bargaining on the same basis as private industry with enterprise bargaining subject only to the merit principle underpinning public service hiring and promotions.”

Dr Orr’s expert brief will explain the background and scope of public sector bargaining in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Along with input from Dr Orr, the expert brief also includes the work of Professor Keith Ewing and Professor Gordon Anderson, leading academics from King’s College London and Victoria University Wellington.

“Legal experts did not advocate in court, instead they explain the law of their country as if they were giving factual evidence, whilst putting it in international and cultural context," Dr Orr said.

“Canada and Australia are good comparators, legally and politically. We share egalitarian, federal systems built on a common law and Westminster inheritance.”

Dr Orr said that Australian legal expertise is more likely to be called upon by overseas courts than local ones.

“Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, so the scope of judging is less broad and questions of comparative rights and regulation are less relevant,” he said.

“‘In Australia, academics are more likely to be involved in parliamentary inquiries, helping develop legislative policy, rather than through after-the-event judicial review of the law.”

This is the fourth time a TC Beirne School of Law academic has given evidence about Australian law in North American cases. Dr Orr has previously contributed to expert briefs on electoral law, voting rights and political finance, in both the United States and Canadian Supreme Courts.

Media: Associate Professor Graeme Orr (0434 525 398, g.orr@law.uq.edu.au) or Lynda Flower, School of Law Marketing (07 3365 2523, l.flower@law.uq.edu.au).